Carien Nantois-Beijer
Published in
7 min readMar 29, 2022


“All wound up with no place to go“ (2018) — Bram Ellens

For many years, Inkef has been working closely together with a strong team of Senior Advisors, who mainly support our portfolio companies across various areas, from establishing a company culture to hiring to designing and executing GTM strategies. As part of our new blogpost series “Meet Inkef’s Senior Advisors”, we will introduce these incredible people to you one by one and tell you more about what brought them to Inkef , their careers, interests, life lessons and more.

Meet Inkef’s Senior Advisors series Part I — Bram Ellens

As part of our “Meet Inkef’s Senior Advisors” series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bram Ellens, a renaissance man with a background in technology, entrepreneurship, music, and art. He has been a unique addition to our wider Inkef team and paramount to our portfolio companies. In this interview, we will elaborate on his impressive career, what brought him to Inkef and the topics he likes to help founders with, from going through transitions to building a company culture. As cherry on the cake, he will share one life lesson that has made him to who he is now, a very successful tech entrepreneur, investor, advisor, marketplace expert and above all, artist.

Let’s get started.

1. From Strategy Consultant to Tech Entrepreneur in Silicon Valley to Artist of sculptures and installations — please tell us more!

In short, on paper this looks like an “either or”, but actually it has always been a blend. On the inside, it has always been 50/50 but in terms of output, it started out 80/20, where the 80 relates to the commercial side (i.e. consultancy and being a tech entrepreneur) and 20 to my passions around artistry and music for example. This was mainly because I did technical studies in Delft, the Netherlands, many years ago. After that, I didn’t really know what to do. I decided to start in consultancy as I believed it was a good step. With consultancy you can never go wrong, I thought.

After consultancy, I joined eBay and I then set up my own business, which I sold successfully to Naspers (Prosus), an international media company listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE). I stayed on for some years and had several roles (e.g. COO of OLX, part of Naspers) across the globe, from Amsterdam to Buenos Aires. Over time, there was an urge to switch the balance. After I sold my business, I had the financial freedom to rethink whether I needed to work or wanted to work. I actually managed to create some buffer to do a career change. I can now do work that might pay less, if I make some other conscious choices. But having said that, it’s not that I’m currently a solo fulltime artist, as an artist I also work with developers for example and am an advisor and investor in tech startups. It’s not black and white, it’s a balance.

2. And then… what brought you to Inkef?

I founded a company called Chama, which took off very well and got on the radar of Inkef. When Inkef reached out, the only thing I absolutely didn’t need was money as it was already heavily funded by a family office. We then got to talk and at some point, I said that if they ever wanted help with their portfolio company Bloomon, they should call me as it was my most favourite company. I always loved flowers. When I was young, I wanted to have a shop where you could buy meat, flowers and coffee. A quirky combination of stuff you like to buy instead of you need to buy. I then got involved in Bloomon and I really enjoyed working with founders and the interaction with Inkef.

In fact, being an artist can be very lonely, especially during Covid. When working in the art scene, one big limiting factor is money. I really like in VC that you see the creating force of money; it’s not a limiting factor but a driving factor.

Fast forward a few years, at some point, I wanted to be back in the creating part of the money, I wanted people around me and especially young, inspiring, talented people. I then decided to call Robert Jan [Managing Partner at Inkef], and I said: I really think that most VCs suck, but there is one I met and liked, which is your fund, as you are human, have a long term perspective, and when things get tough you are still there. So I asked if he would willing to have me support portfolio companies and he said yes! That’s where it officially started.

3. What is your role at the firm and how do you add value to our portfolio companies and deal flow?

I’m mainly involved in the portfolio part, and a little bit in dealflow. With regards to portfolio part, I help Inkef’s companies on a couple of fronts, for example:

Firstly, I support during transitions, when business as usual is not going well enough anymore, due to internal or external factors, and the transition takes long and is painful. What is needed then is action, energy, creativity, clarity and a little bit of ‘cohones’ to help out. That is what I do!

Secondly, what I also really like is helping with the complex triangle between founders, management teams and investors. Especially the portfolio companies of Inkef are of a certain maturity, which can create friction sometimes. Where founders are still in a leading role, but management teams want to run the ship and investors still try to get the helm sometimes.

Moreover, with one company, it was a combination of the above, I noticed that investors were pushing, the management wanted to get a bigger role, the company was in heavy weather because the burn rate was too high and the funding round also didn’t go through. We really needed to change the business model and move from marketing fuelled growth to product fuelled growth. We also had to encourage a cultural change, help shift founders around towards a new role, make product amendments and come up with some cool, new ideas to bring the company back on track, starting with one idea for a couple of customers and then thinking about how to ramp it up and scale it to 5,000 and then 100,000 customers. We succeeded in the end and ensured that the triangle was working smoothly together, which was fantastic!

In addition, I currently help out another company in Inkef’s portfolio on how to create rituals in the organisation. It’s a remote-first company, who hired for talent rather than culture. Helping the founder to transform from just projects to building a company, with a strong culture and a strong DNA is what I’m currently focusing on.

Finally, a last example I will give is with a company where I support on how to get more out of their product offering and also how to deal with a difficult co-founder. As you can see, a wide range of things, big and small.

4. What should Founders call you for?

First of all, I know that being a founder can be very lonely. You’re at the top of the pyramid and the investor likes to position himself as a sparring partner, but we all know he or she is not. The management team could be a sparring partner, but we all know there is often a distance. My role as a former entrepreneur has made me a logical sparring partner. I always say that I’m there to help the founders, despite being on Inkef’s payroll. I’m really there from an entrepreneur’s perspective, and I genuinely don’t care about money, I don’t care about the ROI for Inkef. I think that it should be the result of building a beautiful company, with people who are happy, in a market where there is room enough to make money, where you can make great products that people like to buy. If you send me a dashboard showing your revenue, I would say, I really don’t care, it doesn’t tell me whether the company is doing well. I had companies grow like crazy, but spent close to half a billion. It’s super easy to grow a company when your marketing budget is unlimited.

5. Your number one life lesson learned that you would like to share with our readers?

It’s related to the previous part, it’s how I live. I make money a hygiene and never a goal. That means, it shouldn’t be a burden, so I make sure I make enough to have a comfortable life, but it’s never a goal. If your goal is to be rich, or you goal is revenue or make EUR 10m, you haven’t thought long enough about what is most important for the company and what are really critical factors of success for you. The question is why do you want the money? To have freedom? To buy a boat? Because you like sailing? To have the wind in your hair? Or being away from people?

The great and difficult part is that if you make revenue or your own personal income a secondary KPI, then a very difficult (but important) question is popping up, what on earth is my primary one! Is it happiness, balance? It’s very complex and there is no right or wrong answer. You get into flavours, and you get to who you want to be in life. People who want to be rich hide behind the fact that they don’t want to spend time on thinking who they actually are. The most inspiring people in companies and also in families are the ones that have lived through these questions, and live a life and build a company with a lot more character and soul. I also like big cars and boats and everything, but it also challenges me to think about what I have to leave for it. Realising this, I always end up spending time with great people, touching people’s life to make them better people or better founders in the world.

Bram Ellens interviewed by Carien Beyer